At the gas station where I regularly fill up, there is a dead fly trapped in the tank between the readout and the glass. It obviously got caught in there the last time they calibrated the machine. Every time I see that fly, I feel a little sad. I imagine it in there, realizing its mistake too late, gasping for air and flapping its wings until it can’t anymore. It no doubt did not take long. It’s a very small space.
I can be moved to tears over a homeless or abused animal. I caught the tiniest glimpse of something as I was surfing through the channels one day…an Animal Cops episode where a dog had been chained to one spot for too long and had worn its fur down to nothing, developing a growth that had grown over the chain. The fleeting picture stayed burned on my retinas for months. I have to change the channel or mute the TV every time the Sarah McLaughlin “Arms of an Angel” animal rescue commercial comes on. I absolutely cannot stand it.
I also fly into a fruitless rage when I read about children who are abused, neglected or abandoned. I guess I find myself touched most by victims who are powerless, who cannot speak for themselves or free themselves from the insanity of their situation.
I get so angry (and judgmental) about people who stay stuck in their own problems when they seem to have the means to get themselves out of it. People who stay broke, even though they waste money; or stay fat instead of going on a diet or exercising; people who stay in a job they hate and complain about it constantly; people who stay in bad marriages, hating their spouse but staying all the same. In short, people like me.
But I realized something recently. These people are powerless and voiceless too. They don’t appear to be. Just because their neuroses are not my own, I am tempted to call them lazy or stupid. But I know I am neither lazy nor stupid and I often can’t find my way out. I stay trapped because my voice, the one that has the right answers, is so often silenced by the abuse I lay on top of it. And knowing that I silenced myself doesn’t improve things…it frequently makes them worse.
I stay absorbed in my own neuroses, things I know are literally killing me, because I am angry at my own powerlessness. At the powerlessness I have created by saving every bit of compassion I have for everyone other than myself. My compassion itself has become a kind of powerlessness…a kind of paralysis.
But I don’t look at the fact that my anger and my silence are more than likely the result of my own powerlessness against childhood demons that will not die. Or, more accurately, the ones I will not kill. I cannot forgive myself for my powerlessness then so I allow myself to continue to be powerless now. I cannot allow myself to be happier than I was as a child. I commit to nothing because I know I will only disappoint myself. And so I stay stuck. And I stay angry at myself and at the world.
When I was a child, I used to wish that I had bruises or cuts to show someone, because then they would see, would understand, would help me. Because if I just told them what was going on in my house, they wouldn’t get it. They would think I was crazy.
Now I’m older and smarter. I don’t wish for cuts and bruises anymore. I know that people who have cuts and bruises to show are so much worse off than I am. But that knowledge only keeps me stuck. Because I know that my problems are nothing compared to those that have those bad marriages, or are being abused, or have nothing at all.
But it makes me wonder…why aren’t there halfway houses for people who are emotionally crippled as the result of someone else’s carelessness? Why isn’t there a place where people like me can learn kindness and confidence again? Well, not again. For the first time. Still, even now, as an adult, there is a piece of me that thinks that those who are physically abused have it easier, because they have scars to show. My logical brain is horrified by the thought. But, emotional cripple that I am, I still believe, on some level, that it’s true. Physical abuse can be seen, treated, understood. If I had an alcohol or drug abuse problem, if I could understand it myself, I could get it treated. But emotional abuse is likely much more common and may be more dangerous, as there are no visible scars. But confidence killers always seem to get off scot-free, as long as their words are their only weapons.
I ask myself, how many of us are walking wounded? How many of us have given up on ever pleasing ourselves, much less anyone else? How many of us silence ourselves because we no longer trust our own voices? How many of us beat ourselves up because we have formed the habit of feeling pain? How many of us are like that fly, rapidly running out of oxygen and flapping our wings trying to escape, even though there is no glass trapping us inside?
All the years I could have spent developing my voice, I instead spent hiding from it, hiding it, belittling it. And now I no longer hear it, and I certainly don’t trust it. I’ve been so focused on screaming at the sky for being blue that I no longer have any energy or wisdom to “change the things I can.” So I weep salt tears over dead flies and hurt animals and hypothetical children. And I continue to abuse and silence myself and never cry those tears for the hurt and damaged child that is still making decisions for my life.